"Source: Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913)
Catholic \Cath"o*lic\ (k[a^]th"[-o]*[i^]k), a. [L. catholicus, Gr. kaqoliko`s, universal, general; kata` down, wholly + "o`los whole, probably akin to E. solid: cf. F. catholique.]
1. Universal or general; as, the catholic faith.
Men of other countries [came] to bear their part in so great and catholic a war. --Southey.
Note: This epithet, which is applicable to the whole Christian church, or its faith, is claimed by Roman Catholics to belong especially to their church, and in popular usage is so limited.
2. Not narrow-minded, partial, or bigoted; liberal; as, catholic tastes.
3. Of or pertaining to, or affecting the Roman Catholics; as, the Catholic emancipation act.
After reading Cyn Cooper's piece last week about Lincoln, Nebraska's Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz, I immediately knew the topic for this post.
As Cyn told us:
The new year is a good time to think about action, and action is definitely in order in Nebraska, where Inquisition is in the air.
Angela Bonavoglia, who wrote inspirationally about people fighting reactionary forces within the Catholic Church in Good Catholic Girls, now blows the whistle on a shocking development to summarily eject reformers. Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz of Nebraska declared a mass excommunication of members of Planned Parenthood, Catholics for a Free Choice, the progressive reform group Call to Action, and others. The Vatican has just announced a go-ahead for the plan.
She then told us what is at stake for Lincoln, Nebraska, Catholics who associate themselves with theses groups:
The prospects are ugly and disturbing, writes Bonavoglia
Imagine this conversation at the altar rail: Are you now or have you ever been a member of Call to Action? If the answer is yes, and you live in the diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska, there will be no Communion for you. Nor will you be able to participate in a Catholic baptism or even have a Catholic burial.
But just what is the de facto result of Bishop Bruskewitz's abuse his power of excommunication? Simple: he is doing the very thing that the Religious Right constantly complains about, being forced "to check its religious opinions at the door."
Call to Action describes its agenda as "...a Catholic movement working for equality and justice in the Church and society. An independent national organization...CTA believes that the Spirit of God is at work in the whole church, not just in its appointed leaders. The entire Catholic Church has the obligation of responding to the needs of the world and taking initiative in programs of peace and justice." To that end, it serves as a necessary vehicle to question Church hierarchy on the validity of certain Catholic teachings such as on birth control and the rights accorded to Gay coreligionists. Along with Voice of the Faithful, it bears witness to the Church's mismanagement of the pedophilia scandals. It is a necessary counterbalance to groups such as the "Catholic" League that seems more effective at providing Bill Donohue with an annual $300,000 plus salary (i) than protecting the rights of individual American Catholics. Just as Jesus challenged the inconsistent practices of certain members of the Sanhedrin, CTA performs the very same function with reactionary forces with the Catholic hierarchy.
Surely many of Bishop Brusckewitz's supporters will point out his excommunication order also included the anti-Vatican II Society of St. Pius X. But to equate the two is wrong. Unlike SSPX which openly seeks to return the Church to its pre-Vatican II dogmas, Call to Action advocates adherence to Vatican II and sees its agitation in line with its spirit.
And yet contrary to CTA's very Christ-like practice of open dissent Bishop Brusckewitz seeks to stifle the voices of progressive Catholics. He uses the penalty of excommunication and its consequences to impede on an America Catholic's freedom of association. In short, he wants Catholics to use the public square only to further official Vatican political positions--otherwise, check your dissenting opinions at the door.
As I discussed in Part V of my series on the Catholic Right more authoritarian minded members of my church's hierarchy quell dissent as a means to avoid accountability. This is all to clear in the Vatican's response to the recent pedophilia scandal. Ultra-orthodox talking heads such as George Weigel derisively tag fellow Catholic who simply want overdue accountability and aggiornomento reforms as being part of "a culture of dissent." They desire a secular society that takes its moral direction from the Vatican, even if it infringes on the religious freedom of others. Theirs' is an arrogant Catholicism.
Weigel's words should be a warning not just to Catholics, but to all Americans. His statement about dissent needs to be superimposed upon the actions of Bishop Brusckewitz just so that we can better understand what could happen if the wall that separates church and state would be dismantled.
If a Bishop Brusckewitz were able to evoke secular as well as sectarian punishments for citizens who associated with organizations not to his liking could state inquisition really be that far off? Is it really out of the question to question whether those who would seek to avoid accountability from their congregants would similarly seek a government that does the same to its citizens? And most of all, is it really wise to take the advice of some and cease speaking out in support of keeping church and state separate?
Perhaps more disturbing than Bishop Brusckewitz's actions is the fact that his excommunication order was upheld by an increasingly reactionary Vatican. Inherent in this action is a certain amount of hypocrisy. Call to Action is punished with hierarchical authority whereas many clergy urged their parishioners to see Passion of the Christ--even though it was made by Mel Gibson, a man who refuses to accept the legitimacy of every pope starting with John XXIII. Not a peep was uttered by one bishop or Cardinal while neoconservative Catholics such as George Weigel and Michael Novak openly called for the 2003 invasion of Iraq--even though Pope John-Paul II condemned it. Clearly those who dissent from Church teaching get a dispensation--that is if they are among the hierarchy's friends on the Right.
Granted, the Roman Catholic Church is a private entity and as such has the right to expel or censor certain members. But with that said, the penalty of excommunication is exercised so rarely that both Bishop Brusckewitz's use of it as well as Cardinal Re's approval is nothing more than an abuse of discretion that is shocking to most American Catholics' objective sense of fairness.
Rome's "blessing" of this abuse of discretion will have a chilling effect upon the faithful--perhaps as it was designed to do. Many mainstream Catholics will think twice about dissenting from Church dogmas. And that is sad. The definition of the word catholic is universal. The Vatican's approval of Bishop Bruskewitz, shrinking the Church in such an arbitrary manner is an exclusionary act, the very antithesis of the teachings of Jesus. It is uncatholic behavior.
Orthodoxy can be a very intoxicating. It relieves the individual of the need to reason, much like a drug that anesthetizes the brain. And it is no accident that many of the same public figures who sneer at reasoned religious dissent and liberalism often write about the need for a non-meritorious inequality in American society.
As Bill Moyers observed, "An unconscious people, an indoctrinated people, a people fed only on partisan information and opinion that confirm their own bias, a people made morbidly obese in mind and spirit by the junk food of propaganda, is less inclined to put up a fight, to ask questions and be skeptical. That kind of orthodoxy can kill a democracy -- or worse."
(i) Catholic League IRS form 990 for 2005."
Note: Content reposted with the permission of the author.